Recently the History Channel showed a new documentary by Simcha Jacobovici entittled The Exodus Decoded. The documentary is presented by award winning producer James Cameron (of Terminator and Titanic fame) who makes several appearances throughout the treatment of the Biblical Exodus. A friend of mine caught the new documentary when it was on TV; I ordered the DVD because we don't get the channel. There are exerpts of the show available online and the trailer is very good. Before the brief review I wanted to give the brief description of the aims of the project
After six years of unprecedented research, host Simcha Jacobovici and a team of renowned archeologists, Egyptologists, geologists, and theologians shed revelatory new light on the Exodus and the era's ruling Egyptian Dynasty. Their new theory pushes events hundreds of years earlier than previously thought, allowing age-old stories to sparkle with new perspectives and startling historical import.
First, I will say that the creativity and production quality of this DVD is amazing. The CG animation is fantastic with Jacobovici presenting from within this ancient-future looking set which smells of mystery, archaelogy, transcendence and wonder. The camera zooms in and out and the viewer travels through the CG from the host, out to on location footage, to artifacts, and back again. It is too hard to even describe, but is a must to see. The trailer can give you the feel.
Now the content of the film is basically an effort to prove that the Biblical Exodus is a real historical event. It takes the narrative of the Bible as its source and stays faithful to the biblical accounting while seeking to demonstrate the reality of the events from the point of scientific investigation. Jacobovici traverses the disciplines of forensic archaeology, vulcanology, Old Testament studies, and the histories of Egypt, the Ancient Near East, and the Greeco-Roman Mediteranean. Evangelical Old Testament and ANE James K. Hoffmeier of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and author of the recent Ancient Israel in Sinai: Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition, makes a few appearances in the film offering expertise from his area of research. Jacobovici's theories and chronology are controversial and challenged by many scholars; the reality is that Exodus studies have many chronologies and many theories surrounding its dating. This documentary suggests a very early date (around 1500), make the move to identify the Hyksos with the Hebrews (he is not the only one to do this), and uses geological phenomenon to account for the ten plagues. Basically, the plagues that God brought on Egypt are explained as being the result of a volcanic eruption, and a related effect which occurred in the Nile river delta. Some of these explanations are plausible, others quite ridiculous (the death of the first born is a bit silly)
The science of the plagues is indeed interesting and though I in no way suggest this is what actually happened, its plausibility is attractive. And if this were to be the case for some of the plagues, it would in no way "take God out of the equation" by providing a natural explanation for the actions of God. It is clear that God did use natural things (frogs, gnats, etc) in the plagues, directed by his providential command, at the time Moses was speaking before Pharoah (just who the Pharaoh was is a big issue in dating the Exodus).
It is an interesting documentary which I believe is worth your time. I am no expert in ancient Egypt, ANE Semitic scholarship, so if you are I would love to hear your thoughts...but I do think this film is a welcome tool for discussion of the events in the Bible. Though obviously a bit of a showman, Jacobovici seems to be a believer in the historicity of the biblical Exodus as his final statement in the documentary shows. I'll paraphrase from memory:
Was the Exodus a myth or a mere coincidence of natural phenomenon or was it an act of God establishing a New Covenant with mankind?
I'll only say this in closing - good question...and indeed one further question may be asked. Did the God who redeemed his people from the house of slavery, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, establish a new and lasting covenant with the peoples of the earth. This time not through the law written on stone tablets, but written on the hearts of his people. This time the covenant was established by the one who fulfilled the law of Moses, now sits on the throne of David, who sealed and established the covenant in his own blood...Jesus, the Son of God himself (See Hebrews 8)
This wiki has an outline of Jacobovici's theories. Theories abound on all of this...I don't buy all the stuff in the Exodus Decoded, ibut this one was at least a fine production that tries to follow the narrative of the text.